North Carolina State researchers develop sensor to measure hydration in real-time

North Carolina State University researchers have developed new wearable technology that tracks hydration in real-time through a skin hydration sensor. Researchers believe the benefits of this technology can be utilized in many ways, including by athletes.

Yong Zhu, an associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at NC State, explains that the “sensor could be used to protect the health of people working in hot conditions, improve athletic performance and safety, and to track hydration in older adults or in medical patients suffering from various conditions.”

This sensor can be worn as an adhesive patch on the chest on the wrist as a watch, allowing for minimal interference when working out or going to work. The device is “lightweight, flexible and stretchable,” according to the school. The possible users of this patch are not only athletes, but also professionals who work in high-stress environments or hot temperatures such as military personnel or firefighters.

The skin is a very useful indicator of hydration, making the potential for this technology promising. The patch contains two electrodes which use conductive silver nanowires to detect electrical patterns in the skin. The correlation between hydration and the skin’s electrical properties are predictable, allowing the electrodes to give accurate readings in real-time.

The watch and patch wirelessly transmit data from the low-cost sensor to a program that can run on a laptop, tablet or smartphone.

Shanshan Yao, a Ph.D. student at NC State who was the lead author of the paper presenting the research, said in a statement, “The commercially available monitor we tested our system against costs more than $8,000. Our sensor costs about one dollar, and the overall manufacturing cost of the wearable systems we developed would be no more than a common wearable device, such as a Fitbit.”